RETRO REVIEW – ‘Apollo 13’

In 1995, Ron Howard delivered one of the best historical films ever made!

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 30, 1995
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dean Cundey
WRITERS: William Broyles, Jr., Al Reinert
MUSIC: James Horner

When Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970, the world was already over the fact that America had landed on the moon with Apollo 11. When the crew of Apollo 13 recorded their broadcast, no network wanted to air the show. Then, on April 13, the crew experienced an explosion in the lunar module and suddenly, it became the biggest news event of the year and one of NASA’s biggest failures (it didn’t land on the Moon) and successes (they successfully got the crew back alive).

In 1995, director Ron Howard brought these dramatic events to life in one of the best historical films ever made. Assembled for the film is a cast of actors including Tom Hanks as Commander Jim Lovell, BIll Paxton as Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise and Kevin Bacon as Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert. On the ground is an equally stellar ensemble including Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly, the pilot that Jack replaces due to a medical issue and Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz.

The movie, like most historical films, does take its dramatic licenses. For example, some scenes are slightly pumped up to make them more dramatic and even though Ken Mattingly was at Mission Control to help out, he is used as a composite of several people who helped get the men back to Earth. Beyond these few minor changes, though, the movie gives us one of the most accurate portrayals of the historic events it is portraying.

This is due to the fact that Howard wanted to create the most realistic space film ever. In order to do this, the cast and crew not only acted like they were weightless in space, they also flew in special planes with sets built onboard. Then, they performed scenes while the plane entered a zero gravity fall, giving the illusion of zero gravity environment.

Jim Lovell and his crew set out to begin their harrowing journey in ‘Apollo 13’.

On the ground at Mission Control, Howard and his crew interviewed several people who were involved in the mission. They also read Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s book “Lost Moon” in order to get as many correct details as possible into the movie. Still, despite the historical accuracy, the film also has to entertain the audience and the writers William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert both did an exceptional job.

The first act introduces us to our characters and this is where we fall in love with them. The second act begins after the launch and when the explosion occurs causing Tom Hanks to deliver the now famous line, “Houston, we have a problem.” The third act is where Mission Control and the crew must work together to get the crew back home. Each act seamlessly blends into the other and despite knowing how things turn out, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat.

This is also helped by the score for the film. James Horner gives us something that is not only patriotic, but dramatic and uplifting when it needs to be. It never feels over-the-top but it does celebrate this extraordinary situation in history.

The movie is also helped by its stellar cast. Hanks is perfect as the able Commander Lovell while Paxton and Bacon both deliver great supporting roles. You feel like this is a crew that needs to keep a level head in order to survive the many challenges that pop up during the mission.

The same goes for the crew at Mission Control. Not only does Sinise do a great job as Mattingly, the man who won’t take a break until his comrades are home, but another standout performance belongs to Harris as Gene. Everyone who was involved in the mission has said that things would probably have turned out differently had Gene not been the Mission Commander. Harris immediately convinces you that this is someone who will not give up until absolutely every option has been exhausted.

There may be many films that I like, but there are few that I would declare as a perfect movie experience. “Apollo 13” is one of those few films due to its flawless entertainment value and to its adherence to the real-life story being told. If by some chance you’ve never seen it since its original release in 1995, then you need to correct that grave mistake as soon as possible!

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